Chinese property tycoon 'disappears' after criticizing Xi Jinping's coronavirus response: report

Chinese property tycoon 'disappears' after criticizing Xi Jinping's coronavirus response: report
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A Chinese property tycoon is missing after criticizing Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that originated in the country in December, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Ren Zhiqiang, known as “The Cannon,” in the past has been one of the most prominent critics of Xi. Saturday morning his friends reported him missing, according to the Times. 

“We’re very worried about him,” Wang Ying, a retired entrepreneur and friend of Mr. Ren’s told the Times. “I will continue to look for him.”

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His disappearance comes amid a campaign from the Chinese state to eliminate criticism of the government as the virus outbreak spread to infect 80,000 people in the country and killed 3,100.

As the virus took a biological and economic toll on China, citizens began to grow uneasy and critical of Xi’s response, which the administration quickly censored online. 

In recent weeks, an essay Ren penned criticized Xi and the government for silencing whistleblowers and trying to hide the the effects of the rampant outbreak, which began in the city of Wuhan in December. 

This was not the first time Ren has been on the Communist Party’s radar: In 2016, the party put Ren on a year’s probation for denouncing Xi’s propaganda policies in comments online. He has also reportedly previously been banned from leaving the country and forced to delete his social media accounts because of his frustration with the government's authoritarian policies. 

Earlier this year, Li Wenliang, a doctor who spread messages warning people about the virus on the social media platform WeChat, was accused of making false statements by Chinese officials as the government sought to conceal the crisis. Li later died of the disease himself.